Who do you say I am?

Published on 20 Aug 2020

But you, he said, who do you say I am? [1]. 

There is no more important question.  Who is Jesus Christ?  The question presses all of us. Do we know him? Is he truly our lord?  Are we genuinely his disciples?  Do we take account of his active presence, every day, in our life?  Are we in communication with him?  Then Simon Peter spoke up.  You are the Christ, he said, the Son of the living God [2].  Jesus honours the right answer, which has been arrived at in the right way. It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven [3].  Flesh and blood and lived experience are important for our knowledge of Jesus who came to us to bring us to his Father and whose Spirit lives in our heart.  We are in daily contact with him.  His teaching directs our life.  Our link to him is our chief joy.  We live in his light.  We looked for him.  It was not so much that we found him as that he was revealed to us.  God has given us Jesus, explained him to us and shown us how to follow him.  I thank you for your faithfulness and love, which excel all we ever knew of you [4].

Peter’s knowing the identity of Jesus is based on no chance enlightenment. The Father who has sent his Son into the world also directs minds and hearts towards the saviour.  God intends to be understood.  How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods. Who could ever know the mind of God? [5].  Peter will sometimes be baffled by Jesus and will sometimes go so far in his misunderstanding of him that he will deny and reject him. We are all of us still seeking knowledge of God, spurred on by our awareness that he wants to be known by us.  His promises, surpass every human desire[6]. As disciples of Jesus, we are, most of us, at best mediocre in our daily task of putting flesh and blood on our friendship with God.  Thanks to Peter, and his divinely inspired insight, we start from the right place. You are the Christ, he said, the Son of the living God [7].   We begin with our faith in the God who lives, and who sent his Son to us and who is still with us in his Holy Spirit.  Despite our many mistakes and in spite of all that we do not know, the reliable revelation that has come down to us is the foundation of our life.  All that exists comes from him: all is by him and for him [8].

Everyday, as we live out our discipleship of Christ, he is teaching us to focus on the One who is source of everything and who holds everything in being.  The Son shows us his Father and will eventually bring us to him.  That all is for him [9] reminds us to allow our projects to be made virtuous and holy.  God’s house is being built, and we have our part to play.  We are included in the divine plan not as passive observers but as co-operators.  All the time, we are trying to do what God wants and he is continually giving us the help we need to do this.  His cherishing our freedom means that there is much that seems mysterious and inexplicable for the moment.  Who could ever know the mind of the Lord?  Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? [10]  We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us. On the day I called you answered; you increased the strength of my soul [11].   By the grace of God, we receive enough understanding for the next steps. Humility reminds us that God is in charge and that we are not wiser than he is.

Jesus’ question hangs on the air and challenges us.  But you, he said, who do you say I am? [12].  Peter answered well, having listened to God.  Jesus responds by conferring more understanding. So I now say to you.  You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church [13].  Divine revelation meets flesh and blood once more.  As we answer the question, ‘Who do you say Jesus is?’ we not only draw on the resources of what God has revealed about himself but also on what he tells us about ourselves.  Correctly identifying the Lord tells us who we are as well as who he is.  Peter answers truthfully and in depth and shows himself a faithful disciple.  This revelation survives moments of puzzlement and even sinfulness.  Understanding who Christ is is knowledge which it is not easy to give up or to return to the one who revealed it.   Your love, O Lord is eternal. Discard not the work of your hands [14].  Our attachment to Jesus needs daily nourishment and care but it also has resilience and solidity.  Like God’s holy Church, our link to the Lord is strong and can withstand some attack.  Our gratitude to God for what he has given us encourages us not be complacent.  We are not careless of the gift of friendship with Christ. However, like Peter, our mixed record of fidelity, does not annul our fundamental attachment.

And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it [15].   Jesus reveals to us God, Peter and ourselves.  At our very different levels, we are all engaged in spiritual combat.  The gates of the underworld impede, for the moment, our opponent.  That our loving and faithful God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit makes us strong.  Peter, his denials notwithstanding, has also shown himself to be strong in his attachment to Christ, which he shares with us. I drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a throne of glory [16].  He guides us and encourages us.  And what of the self that God uncovers for us?  Like Peter, our response, from our depths,  to the challenge to identify the Lord reveals who we are, as well as who we take Jesus to be.  Are we strong? Are we faithful? Do we know enough about God?  Do we love him sufficiently? Each disciple gives a personal answer.  Yet we are not alone, either in our frailty or our strength.  We are friends of Jesus and members of the Church.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven [17].  Jesus stays with us.  He is present to us in his Holy Spirit.   We are in communion with him in his body, which is the Church.  Of the Body of Christ, he is the head and we are the members.  In this communion, Peter continues to speak effectively.  The apostle and his successors go on showing us how to be disciples, that is, to know who Jesus truly is and to allow the Lord to reveal to us who we really are.  From the chair of Peter we hear a persistent call to lead a life centred on God. The apostolic office steadily reminds us that he who made us helps us to know him and to love him.  God reveals many truths in Christ, but above all his love for us.  This love is expressed in words and teaching which are true. The love of God is also shown to us in the best way of life.  We are asked and helped to live like the One who creates, reveals and strengthens. To him be glory forever. Amen[18].

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              Matthew 16.15

[2]              Matthew 16.16

[3]              Matthew 16.17

[4]              Psalm (138) 137.2

[5]              Romans 11.33-34

[6]              Roman Missal, Collect for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

[7]              Matthew 16.16

[8]              Romans 11.36

[9]              Romans 11.36

[10]            Romans 11.34-35

[11]            Psalm (138) 137.3

[12]            Matthew 16.15

[13]            Matthew 16.18

[14]            Psalm (138) 137.8

[15]            Matthew 16.18

[16]            Isaiah 22.23

[17]            Matthew 16.19

[18]            Romans 11.36